US generated more energy from renewables than coal for the first time in 2022

The electricity generated from renewables surpassed that from coal production in the United States for the first time in 2022, according to figures from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

In 2022, renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydro, biomass, and geothermal, produced more electricity than coal for the first time in the United States. 

Additionally, renewable generation surpassed nuclear generation for the second time, the first time being in 2021. 

In total, the US electric power sector produced 4,090 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity last year, according to new figures released by the EIA.  

The figure was mainly attributed to a significant increase in wind and solar power, which contributed 14 per cent of the electricity produced domestically in 2022, an increase from 12 per cent the previous year.

Natural gas remained the largest source of US electricity generation, increasing from a 37 per cent share in 2021 to 39 per cent in 2022. Hydropower generation remained unchanged, at 6 per cent, while biomass and geothermal sources contributed less than 1 per cent each.

Overall, Texas was the state that produced the most energy from wind sources, accounting for 26 per cent of total US wind generation last year, followed by Iowa (10 per cent) and Oklahoma (9 per cent). 

Texas and California were also the top states when it came to utility-scale solar generation, producing 16 and 26 per cent of the country’s utility-scale solar electricity, respectively, followed by North Carolina (8 per cent). 

US electricity generation (2010-2022)

US electricity generation (2010-2022) / US Energy Information Administration

Image credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration

“This booming growth is driven largely by economics,” said Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy. “Over the past decade, the levelised cost of wind energy declined by 70 per cent, while the levelised cost of solar power has declined by an even more impressive 90 per cent.”

“Renewable energy is now the most affordable source of new electricity in much of the country,” added Wetstone.

While renewable energy sources increased their production, non-green options decreased theirs. 

Between 2021 and 2022, the share of coal-fired generation decreased from 23 per cent to 20 per cent,  as a number of coal-fired power plants retired and the remaining plants were used less.

At the same time, the share of nuclear generation decreased from 20 per cent in 2021 to 19 per cent in 2022. These figures have been attributed to the retirement of the Palisades nuclear power plant in May 2022. 

“I’m happy to see we’ve crossed that threshold, but that is only a step in what has to be a very rapid and much cheaper journey,” said Stephen Porder, a professor of ecology and assistant provost for sustainability at Brown University.

“Wind and solar are going to be the backbone of the growth in renewables, but whether or not they can provide 100 per cent of the US electricity without backup is something that engineers are debating.”

This month, the EIA forecast that both wind and solar will each grow by 1 per cent in 2023. Natural gas is forecast to remain unchanged, and coal is forecast to decline by 3 per cent to 17 per cent next year.

Earlier today, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) warned that the global energy transition is “off-track” and in need of a “fundamental course correction”, which would include a significant increase in funding.  

In 2021, $1.3tn (£1tn) was invested in renewable energy sources globally. However,  IRENA claimed that this figure must rise to around $5tn (£4tn) annually to reach the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting global warming to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels by 2030.

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